It took more than a thousand years for a woman to break into the all male ranks of Venetian gondoliers. The German born woman who will take up the paddle is named Alexandra Hai.
It took a court ruling to allow Hai to become a gondolier. At the moment she can only serve residents of the Locanda Art Deco Hotel.
Although Hai has garnered some support from locals who great her with shouts of “Brava gondoliera!”; the 425 male gondoliers of Venice have not been quite so enthusiastic. Entering into the controversy is the fact that Hai has failed the exam to be a gondolier several times. The fact that she is a foreigner has not helped her cause.
Gondoliers in Venice practice an ancient craft with the jobs frequently being passed from father to son. Roberto Luppi, president of the gondolier association, said that Hai had been proved incapable of the complicated duties of handling a gondola 10 meters, or 35 feet, long, having failed four tests, and that she had used her gender to
whip up media interest.
When asked about Hai’s accusations that gondoliers had physically threatened her, he reacted with scorn: “After a person accuses gondoliers of being racists and sexists, what does she expect? That they are supposed to give her kisses?”
It should be noted that Hai does have a boating license and according to the courts that has been sufficient up to now.
The ruling by the Veneto Regional Tribunal allowing Hai to be a gondolier is being challenged by City Hall. Venetians do not easily accept change. It has only been eight years since women have been allowed to work as waitresses at the cafés in St. Mark’s Square. Even now some of them are only allowed to work indoors.
Licensed gondoliers have to adhere to strict rules. They not only have to be able to steer a gondola through the narrow, crowded canals of Venice, but they have to adhere to a strict dress code and observe rules on how their gondolas are fitted. Even the width of the stripes on their shirts are dictated to them.
As a sign that you cannot fight change, the Locanda Art Deco hotel is the only hotel in Venice that uses a gondola to ferry guests around. The upscale hotels generally use motorboats.